In 2012 Australia “harmonised” its Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) laws. This essentially means that within an organisation, WHS laws designed to keep people safe at work now apply to both paid employees and volunteers.
The legislation applies to organisations that have at least one paid worker (although all organisations have a common law duty to volunteers). It includes ensuring that volunteers have a safe and healthy place to work and are protected from harassment, bullying and other forms of harm or mistreatment.
A two-way street: volunteer responsibilities
Church volunteers however also have a responsibility to work safely and not do things that increase the risk of harm to themselves or others. This includes:
- taking reasonable care of their own health and safety;
- performing their duties safely;
- taking reasonable care not to negatively affect the health and safety of others;
- following workplace instructions and cooperating with safe church policies and practices;
- not performing activities they are not qualified or skilled to undertake;
- driving safely and obeying road rules while volunteering;
- using safety and personal protective equipment where appropriate; and
- reporting any health and safety hazards they come across.
While it’s almost unheard of that a volunteer in Australia has been prosecuted under the WHS Act for endangering themselves or others, the possibility still exists. Providing volunteers are following the guidelines for health and safety however, it’s extremely unlikely they will be fined or prosecuted.
Training your volunteers
It’s important to ensure your volunteers are adequately trained in health and safety requirements as well as in how to perform their duties.
You could manage this through workplace inductions that cover emergency procedures and safe work practices. At Faith Insurance we also provide our clients with free-of-charge access to our Safe Ministry Training program. This program provides online video tutorials and covers a range of safe work topics.
There are also external training programs available that could suit churches, charities and other not for profits. At Faith Insurance we recommend the following:
- RLink/RedBook – this organisation was specifically set up to help Australian churches with their risk management and safety obligations. It offers training in fire equipment use, emergency and disaster drills and essential safety measures.
- ChildSafe – ChildSafe is an Australian organisation that provides training and risk management resources to assist community organisations to become safe places for children and youth.
Insurance cover for your volunteers
Workers’ Compensation Insurance does not provide cover for volunteers. This means you need to financially protect them through other types of cover. Ideally you should source this through church insurance providers rather than general business insurers.
At Faith Insurance our Personal Accident insurance for ministers and volunteers provides cover for injuries or accidents sustained by volunteers while doing voluntary work for your organisation.
If you’d like to know more about church insurance, public liability for non profit organisations or insurance for charities, call us at 13 000 FAITH or send us an online message or email.
Safe Work Australia – Essential Guide to WHS for Volunteers
Faith Insurance – all articles on Healthy Workplaces.
Written by Tess OliverTags: health & safety, volunteers